Expected publication: March 24th 2015
Four high school seniors put their hopes, hearts, and humanity on the line as an asteroid hurtles toward Earth in this contemporary novel.
They always say that high school is the best time of your life.
Peter, the star basketball player at his school, is worried “they” might actually be right. Meanwhile Eliza can’t wait to escape Seattle—and her reputation—and perfect-on-paper Anita wonders if admission to Princeton is worth the price of abandoning her real dreams. Andy, for his part, doesn’t understand all the fuss about college and career—the future can wait.
Or can it? Because it turns out the future is hurtling through space with the potential to wipe out life on Earth. As these four seniors—along with the rest of the planet—wait to see what damage an asteroid will cause, they must abandon all thoughts of the future and decide how they’re going to spend what remains of the present.
We All Looked Up is about four teens who are dealing with the impending death of not just themselves, but their planet and their species, by way of the asteroid Ardor. Peter is a jock and student council leader who is already questioning himself before hearing about Ardor. Peter has a history with Eliza, a photographer who has been labelled the school slut, and who is dealing with her father’s imminent death from cancer. Meanwhile, school slacker and joker Andy has been in love with Eliza for years, and sees Ardor as a way to finally have sex with her. And Anita, who serves on the student council with Peter, is trying to break away from her Miss Perfect life to follow her dreams of becoming a jazz singer.
“They’d been learning about the phrase “Pyrrhic victory,” which came from Roman times and meant that you’d won something, like a battle, but in order to win, you had to lose so much that you really hadn’t won at all.”
One of the biggest themes in this book is the Pyrrhic victory. It’s a brilliant way to tie together the many philosophies of the book because the four teens – and the rest of the world, are all battling a Pyrrhic victory in these last few weeks of their lives. The question is, is it worth it to win small battles even if you know it’s a Pyrrhic victory? Do love, art, music matter in the face of imminent death?
It’s questions like these that characterize and make We All Looked Up a special read. It’s reflective, it’s alarming, but it’s also deeply rooted in philosophy – and not just one philosophy, but many. One of the brilliant things about Wallach’s book is that it embraces many ideas from religion, philosophy, from the minds of great writers to the minds of his characters, both despicable and flourishing. And Wallach never judges. Instead, he presents these ideas in a way that is equal parts weird, heartfelt, and insightful.
“Question: How could you look the end of the world in the face and not go crazy? Answer: You couldn’t. The only sane thing to do was to seek out enough distraction to numb the terror.”
For me, this book was both thought-provoking and comforting. I confess to a bit of an obsession over what happens to us when we die, and most days, I’m scared of that idea. But the characters’ thoughts are my thoughts, from Eliza’s counting down of the number of times she’ll hear a song, to Andy’s joy at arson because why not.
There were a few parts of this book that weren’t quite to my taste. While I mostly enjoyed the descriptive writing, there were a few moments that it veered into purple prose territory, and took me out of the book. Examples:
“The nearly full moon was shining down like the bright, pupilless eye of some phlegmatic god when the first stone was thrown.”
“They’d recently been pollarded, which made their upper halves look grotesque–the arboreal equivalent of the Venus de Milo, with dozens of severed limbs instead of just two.”
There were also several moments with Andy’s friends Bobo and Golden that seemed almost too surreal to be authentic (I don’t want to give anything away so I’m not giving examples) – and again, those moments took me out of the novel.
Although I have some qualms about the book, I have to applaud Tommy Wallach for addressing extinction so head-on, and with such care, emotion, and yes, philosophy. I highlighted so many passages, and I’ll be reading those gems again and again.
The best books, they don’t talk about the things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world. You’re part of this cosmic community of people who’ve thought about this thing, whatever it happens to be.
I feel a bit less alone and a bit more comforted because I read this book, and I’m grateful for that.
Sex Positivity: I loved how much sex was on everyone’s minds because that just felt so authentic to how people would be with imminent extinction. In particular, I loved that Eliza owned her sexuality and that Andy made it such a big deal, and how thoughts about sex were not censored but honestly thought out by the characters.
Book Theme Song:
That said, I think this might be the perfect non-author related song to characterize the book:
The Final Word:
If I had to describe WE ALL LOOKED UP in one word, it would be “wise.” Because that’s what I got from this novel: a lot of wisdom, and a lot of reflection. While it’s not a perfect novel, I needed to read it to confront my own fears of death, and I think a lot of teens will find it comforting and illuminating as well.
Recommended for: teens dealing with depression or anxiety, people who need perspective on the world, philosophy junkies
WE ALL LOOKED UP comes out tomorrow. Are you interested in reading it? Are you a little bit afraid and thoughtful about death like I am? What would be the first thing you would do if you knew you were going to die? Let me know in the comments.